This machine mildly irritates fascists

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Jack Graham
    July 20, 2015 @ 3:26 am

    I've always liked this one. But I'm not sure I agree with the idea it seems to profess – that one's fundamental ethical self is wholly separate from one's training and life history. It seems to be saying that good people just are good even if you take away everything that shapes their worldview, their view of themselves, their social situation, etc. I admit I haven't thought deeply about this.

    This bit of your essay – "…by letting go of the concept that you are a self-contained entity existing disconnected and apart from all the other Selves and matter-states only serves to help you understand the disconnectedness of all the self-experiences. Your experiential identity as part of a larger whole remains, even absent traditional notions of the singular Self" – seems to actually agree with the message of the episode as I characterised it above. But then we get to this bit – "…the transcendent experience of ego death frees the self to live a more holistic and interdependent existence. We travel not just to better and learn more about ourselves, but to rediscover with that which connects all of us." – I see the outlines of a different way of looking at it. The freedom from a version of oneself wrapped in certain egoistic relations frees you to more fully engage with your social situation. The Enterprise crew don't refuse to do what MacDuff wants because they have an inviolable inner core of decency but rather because, without the clutter of ego, they still function as a team, a society.

    It is possible that a non-mind-wiped crew, given aggressive and warlike orders by Starfleet, might actually lack the ability to disobey orders?


  2. K. Jones
    July 20, 2015 @ 7:18 am

    It's funny because in reading it, I actually found it easier to in this case, define Will by his relationship with Laren, rather than vice-versa. There's of course the context working against it – it's not this episode's fault, but a bunch of other episodes – that there's not a woman on this crew that Will hasn't now had sex with. But ignoring that for a minute … the story, but particularly the performances from Frakes and Forbes … really sell the idea that once their memories of "self" are gone, these two have really been stripped down to the cores of "who they are".

    And she's a slightly reckless, take charge girl (which is the real reason she got in trouble), and he's a highly social, empathetic and flirtatious guy. On paper, they're bloody well made for each other, but their baggage gets in the way. And when the baggage is added back in, we see that unless they can find a different way to shed some of that baggage, they're probably not going to get back to that state of easy comfort with each other.

    Something of a shame really, as Frakes and Forbes have a really easy chemistry that I could've stood to see more of.

    I think that speaks to a lot of the same themes with the rest of the cast, as losing their "self" in no way actually changes the core of these characters. Nor does it remotely curb their curiosity. Deanna immediately relays the curiosity that they have an android bartender. Even Worf's more klingonish, aggressive tendencies are prudent decisions, and not unfounded. And Beverly desperately, in hybrid doctor/science officer form, wants to get to the bottom of the mystery.

    My only gripe – and it's already a pretty loaded full episode – is that it would've been neat to see how "loss of identity" affected married couple Miles and Keiko, as there's some good drama there. Two people, with a newborn baby, who are apparently married – would've covered some of the "other people on the ship" who were presumably confused.

    The episode is very bridge-crew focused, to the point where the other 800 people on board don't even really factor in.


  3. K. Jones
    July 20, 2015 @ 7:21 am

    Just to add – why it was so easy to define Will by Laren rather than the more expected notion of defining her by her relationship to him, is Forbes' commanding presence and performance, as a woman with agency, and who isn't going to let a pesky thing like mild irritation at vulnerability get in the way of doing her job and living her life.

    Riker ends up being the submissive one, more or less – though it's not a dominant thing, more of a give/take thing, which is more reflective of natural, healthy relationships anyway than the usual TV nonsense.


  4. Adam Riggio
    July 20, 2015 @ 3:50 pm

    I found that while the episode and its characters did try to say there was some inherent goodness to the characters, such goodness isn't absolute, but simply rooted deeper than amnesia can take away. Because the amnesia of this episode's conceit couldn't render them completely useless, the crew had to remember their technical skills, language, and all the basic attributes of their being able to negotiate their own world. That includes, in the broadest sense, their characters.

    But even then, the problem only really becomes obvious when the Enterprise starts steamrolling through the battle fleets of this culture they've supposedly fought for years. Everyone except McDuff feels immediately suspicious and put off. It's not the violence itself that turns them against their secret hijacker, but the fact that the climactic battle they've been bracing themselves for is too easy. Their new narrative stops making sense.

    The question of whether the crew under ordinary conditions would disobey aggressive, warmongering, vile orders from Starfleet, as far as I'm concerned, really has to wait until Insurrection.


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